Archive for Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inspection program working, officials say

July 10, 2008

Although more than half the rental units failed to pass on first visits, De Soto city officials say the six-month-old rental inspection program is working with good cooperation with landlords.

The De Soto City Council created the program last year after creating a committee of city staff, area social workers, council members and landlords to study the proposal. It requires all landlords in De Soto to register and that all rental units be inspected every three years.

The intent of the program is to ensure rental units meet minimum safety standards, and to prevent bad landlords from extracting all the revenue possible from rentals without any reinvestment, De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said. Unsafe, substandard units often attract tenants whose indifference to upkeep only makes rental units worse, creating a downward spiral as landlords turnover the units with little or no maintenance, he said.

"When we had meetings on the program, one out-of-town landlord said if he had to put money in his De Soto property to meet basic standards, then maybe he didn't want to invest in De Soto," the city administrator said. "Well, that's the thing we want to avoid."

Guilfoyle said he met weekly with inspector Pam Graff to review rental inspection activity.

"Cooperation with the landlords has been very good," Guilfoyle said. "Overall, I think it's going very well."

Graff said landlords were making a serious effort to have units ready for inspections, especially those who have had a unit fail. That is reflected in figures that show that only two of the 43 units that didn't pass a first inspection failed a second time.

Through June, 116 rental units had been inspected. Forty-four of those passed on first inspection and 62 failed. Thirty-seven of the units that failed on the first inspection passed a second attempt while six didn't.

As of Tuesday, only eight of the 18 units failed from January through May haven't been inspected a second time, Graff said. She would be calling those landlords who haven't rescheduled to set times for another inspection.

Guilfoyle and Graff singled out the management of Clearview City Apartments, which with 220 units is the city's largest landlord, for its cooperation. A third of those units are to be inspected this year.

Kimbre Middleton, one of two property managers at Clearview City, said Graff has been very communicative.

Although she questions the need for the city to inspect Clearview City apartments already subject to inspection as Section 8 housing, it was fair for the city to inspect city properties rather than single out perceived problem rentals, Middleton said.

Members of the committee who proposed the inspection program said last year landlords could benefit from the program because it would give tenants confidence rentals were maintained. Middleton said she has had some feedback confirming that prediction.

"I do think that as word has spread through De Soto that our units are inspected by the city people, it does seem to bring some relief to people," she said. "I didn't notice it so much in the beginning, but as time has gone on, I have had people ask about the inspections."

The one item that has caused the most problems is bad ground-fault electrical outlets. Guilfoyle said the city doesn't require ground-fault outlets because many of the rental units in De Soto were wired before building standards required such outlets.

"It's not the intent of the program to require current building codes," Guilfoyle said. "It's the case of a 50-year-old house that could be pretty onerous. But if you do have a ground-fault outlet, it is expected to be functional."

Another common problem has been bad batteries in fire alarms, Graff said. It is a problem the can be fixed during the inspection.

"If something can be fixed during the inspection, that's great," she said.

Guilfoyle and Graff said they were unaware of instances where landlords were keeping rental units off the market because they didn't want to put money into units that wouldn't pass. However, Guilfoyle said a landlord told him he had units he wasn't attempting to rent because they weren't marketable and was looking at ways to redevelop the property.

That wasn't the intent of the program or the city to force property owners to redevelop property, but the rental inspection program could encourage such activity, Guilfoyle said.

"One of the thoughts expressed to me during committee deliberations and in council discussions was if a landlord allowed a property to become a problem with life saftey issues the landlord has a choice to make the investment to take care of basic issues or have a property you can't do anything with," he said. "It's an encouragement to keep property fixed up or do something else with it for the betterment of the community."

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